San Diego – Bill Gates and 20 other inventors filed a patent for a high-technology football helmet equipped with sensors and a processing circuit. The goal of the helmet is to try to minimize the head trauma injuries that are plaguing the football world.
The helmet has two separate features. First, the helmet is structurally designed to reduce forces, torques, and accelerations to the player’s head during collisions that occur during the game. This design is intended to reduce the severity of collisions and, as a result, the severity of injuries. The second approach looks more at recording and assessing the impact of the collisions. The helmet would assess damage according to a pre-determined impact and damage threshold.
The sensors in the helmet would measure impact that occurs using a shell and lining inside the helmet to allow the trainers and doctors to know immediately the severity of a hit to the head. For example, a trainer might immediately get an impact report sent to their cell phone. Part of a helmet’s effectiveness in reducing forces and accelerations comes from the helmet shell, which would degrade as it absorbs impacts. So it appears as if the outer shell of the helmet would crumple for large impacts. The helmet would then continuously measure its liners and report when it needs a new outer shell. When a liner is damaged beyond a pre-determined threshold, the helmet can alert a trainer.
The patent application for this helmet was filed on July 8 and made public in November. Bill Gates is one of the 21 inventors. Most of the inventors are associated with Intellectual Ventures, a company based in Bellevue, Washington that invests in intellectual property and inventions. The patent is filed under the holding company Intellectual Ventures which uses the company name “Elwha LLC.” Gates is known to be a Seattle Seahawks fan and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen owns the NFL team.
Other groups are also working to create an improved football helmet. A Seattle-based startup called Vicis has raised about $23 million dollars which included investments from former NFL players. Vicis has created the ZERO1 helmet, designed to reduce forces believed to cause concussions. The helmet has been used by college football teams during practices, but garnered complaints regarding comfort of the player. The company has used the feedback to improve the design and has plans for its helmets to be sued more next season.
These helmets come at a time when head trauma injuries are a pressing problem for football players. Typically, the NFL sees 200 diagnosed concussions or more each year (with 271 in 2015). Over 40% of retired NFL players have signs of traumatic brain injury. The NFL has promised $100 million for research and development of new technologies to prevent head injuries.